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Blog: “Making a real difference is what it is all about”

Activity Alliance enables organisations to support disabled people to be active and stay active for life. So, this year we are sharing great stories from both sides – how organisations are working to make active lives possible, and the direct impact their work is having on individual disabled people. Today, we hear from Mark Fosbrook who talks about his passion around influencing policies, services and opportunities to support more disabled people to be more active.

Mark in wheelchair basketball match

Hi, my name is Mark, I’m 43 and I live in Oswestry, Shropshire. I’d say I am quite a competitive person and love to play sport and be active at any opportunity.

I’ll start by telling you a little bit about me. I’m a retired Paralympian who has represented my country in three different sports. I love being active and still take part in various sports and activities – especially with the family. I’m Activity Alliance’s West Midlands Engagement Advisor but currently on secondment as West Midlands Combined Authority Include Me Manager. Include Me West Midlands is a programme is very close to my heart as it aims to get more disabled people more active across the region.

Being active has always been important to me. I realised from a young age that sport was the ideal platform to show my disability didn’t need to define me.

I was born with congenital deformities to my hands and legs – meaning I have no feet or ankles, and two fingers on each hand. This has never held me back.

I remember being booked on to camps during the school holidays to try out different sports and activities. As I went through school I played a lot of sports competitively. I represented Portsmouth and my school team in hockey. I also represented Havant in athletics and played in the National wheelchair basketball league. My first Paralympics event saw me represent Great Britain in volleyball at the Atlanta 1996 games.

My Paralympic journey continued with me representing Great Britain in wheelchair basketball and rugby. I played both sports alongside each other for a while. Eventually I focussed on making the London 2012 wheelchair basketball team. However, I missed this selection due to having a still born daughter. This has been the toughest thing I have ever gone through. My focus on training really helped me through this dark time.

I believe every single person, disabled or non-disabled, faces barriers or problems to overcome. That barrier is relative to that individual. I do get called inspirational, or people assume I need help because I am disabled. To me, I’m just getting on with life – as someone would with financial stresses or relationship problems, or a bereavement. The focus should be on helping everyone overcome their own barriers – I try to help people see that.

I made the team for the 2014 World Championships, and we won gold. I also have a silver medal from the 2017 European Championships. I have may sporting achievements, and they are all special to me. To represent your country in one sport is amazing. But to represent your country in three different sports has been a massive honour.

Naturally, my passion for sport and activity has shaped my career. This has brought me to where I am today being involved in the Include Me West Midlands programme. It’s led by West Midlands Combined Authority and supported by Activity Alliance and Sport England. It’s more than just a programme though. I see it as an opportunity to change behaviour and create a collective movement that can make a difference. 

Making a real difference is what it is all about for me. We know through research the different types of barriers disabled people face when it comes to being active. I know I have smashed through mine, or ignored them, but I still see barriers every day.

Through Include Me West Midlands we are trying to remove barriers regionally, and beyond. You can have the best facilities, or the best opportunities but if people are so worried about transport, where they are going to live, or how they will support their family, then being active drops as a priority.

We know many services have the best intentions but are not always developed with disabled people in mind. Include Me West Midlands places disabled people and people with long-term health conditions at the heart of the conversation. This developing network gives disabled people a voice to help influence and change policies, procedures and opportunities.

While my secondment as Include Me Manager is only for a year, the Include Me West Midlands programme is definitely a long-term investment to raising the bar across the region - and setting better practice nationally.

To find out more about Include Me West Midlands, please visit the WMCA websiteFollow the conversation with #IncludeMeWM.